Jun 102018
 
 June 10, 2018  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The Day of the God 1894

 

Is The Existing Banking System Coming To An End? (Ren.)
The Credit Cycle Will Be The EU’s Undoing (Macleod)
China is in Trouble (Mises)
How To Plan For Next Round Of Fed Interest Rate Hikes (Freep)
Trump Open To US Embassy In Pyongyang, North Korea (Axios)
Trump Backs Out Of Joint G7 Communique With Attack On Trudeau (Ind.)
One ‘Rant,’ Rough Talks Sour G7 Mood In Confrontations With Trump (R.)
China’s Xi Calls Out ‘Selfish, Short-Sighted’ Trade Policies (R.)
G7 Leaders Urge Russia To Stop Undermining Democracies (R.)
Iran’s Rouhani Criticizes US For Imposing Its Policies On Others (R.)
The Relationship Between Population And Consumption Is Not Straightforward (G.)
There Are No War Heroes. There Are Only War Victims. (CJ)
Our Plastic Pollution Crisis Is Too Big For Recycling To Fix (Leonard)

 

 

Well, not today. Support is low.

Is The Existing Banking System Coming To An End? (Ren.)

Today Switzerland is set to hold a referendum to decide whether to ban commercial banks from creating money. The aim of campaigners is to limit financial speculation by forcing banks to hold 100 per cent reserves against their deposits. If the referendum result goes the way of the campaign group, the Vollgeld Initiative and the concept known as the sovereign money initiative comes to fruition, Swiss banks will no longer be able to create money for themselves, rather they will only be allowed to lend money that they have accumulated from savers or other banks. The current fractional reserve banking system works like this: Banks lend money that they don’t actually have and then command interest on the non-existent money.

This is akin to x offering to loan y a sum of say, £100,000 that the former hasn’t got. The way around this conundrum is for x to then lodge the sum with another financial institution who happens to be in on the scam. Y then pays x interest on the money that x has never been in the position to lend in the first place. Consistent with the proposed Swiss model, the idea of limiting all money creation to central banks was first touted in the 1930s and supported by renowned US economist Irving Fisher as a way of preventing asset bubbles and curbing reckless spending. If the Vollgeld Initiative succeeds with its campaign on Sunday, the fractional reserve system will be replaced by a bill which will give the Swiss National Bank (SNB) a monopoly on physical and electronic money creation.

Since the establishment of the SNB in 1891, the bank has had exclusive powers to mint coins and issue Swiss bank notes. But over 90% of money in circulation in Switzerland (and arguably the world) currently exists in the form of electronic cash which is created out of nothing by private banks. In modern market economies central banks control the creation of bank notes and coins but not the creation of all money. The latter occurs when a commercial bank offers a line of credit. Iceland, whose bloated banking system collapsed in 2008, has also touted the abolition of private money creation and an end to a practice in which central banks accept deposits, make loans and investments and hold reserves that are a fraction of their deposit liabilities. Fractional banking means that money is effectively produced from thin air.

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The weakness of the euro. Largely self-induced.

The Credit Cycle Will Be The EU’s Undoing (Macleod)

It is a common misconception that the world has a business cycle: that merely puts the blame on the private sector for periodic booms and busts. The truth is every boom and bust has its origins in central bank monetary policy and fractional reserve banking. A central bank first attempts to stimulate the economy with low interest rates, having injected base money into the economy to rescue the banks from the previous crisis. The central bank continues to suppress interest rates, inflating assets and facilitating the financing of government deficits. This is followed by the expansion of bank credit as banks recognise that trading conditions in the non-financial economy have improved. Price inflation unexpectedly but inevitably increases, and interest rates have to rise.

They rise to the point where earlier malinvestments begin to be liquidated and a loan repayment crisis develops in financial markets. It is fundamentally a credit cycle, not a business one. Central bankers do not, with very few exceptions, understand they are the cause. And the few central bankers who do understand are unable to influence monetary policy by enough to change it. By not understanding that they create the crisis themselves, central bankers believe they can control all financial risks through regulation and intervention, which is why they are always taken by surprise when a credit crisis hits them. For these reasons we know it is only a matter of time before the world faces another credit crisis.

The next one is likely to be unprecedented in its violence, even exceeding that of the last one in 2008/09, because of the scale of additional monetary reflation that has taken place over the last ten years. The further accumulation of debt in the intervening period also means that a smaller increase in price inflation, and therefore a lower height for interest rates will trigger it. My current expectation is that a global debt liquidation and credit crisis is not far away and will occur by the end of Q1 in 2019, perhaps even by the end of this year. The problem is a global one and we know not where it will break. But once it does, the ECB and the euro will possibly face the most violent deflation in modern history, even exceeding the global slump of the 1930s.

We know in advance what the supposed solution will be: monetary hyperinflation to bail out the banks, governments and the indebted. The effects on prices in the Eurozone are unlikely to be as delayed as they have been in the current cycle, partly because of the sheer scale of the issuance of new money and credit required to stabilise the financial system, partly because the euro is subordinate to the dollar as a safe-haven currency, and partly because of its limited history as a medium of exchange.

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An exercise in large numbers.

China is in Trouble (Mises)

While the rulers of China have been able all along to hedge their plans over longer periods than their Western counterparts have, the new legal situation has extended this planning horizon even further.1 In comparison with those of Western economies, China’s countermeasures against the crisis in 2008 were significantly more drastic. While in the US the balance sheet total of the banking system increased by USD 4,000bn in the years after the global financial crisis, the balance sheet of the Chinese banking system expanded by USD 20,000bn in the same period. For reference: This is four times the Japanese GDP.

The following chart shows the expansion of the bank balance sheet total as compared to economic output. Did the Chinese authorities assume excessive risks in fighting the crisis? Neither the fact that China’s bank balance sheets amount to more than 600% of GDP nor the fact that they have doubled in terms of percentage of GDP in the past several years suggests a healthy development.

Our friends from Condor Capital expect NPL ratios to rise in China, which could translate into credit losses of USD 2,700 to 3,500bn for China’s banks, and this is under the assumption of no contagion (!). By comparison, the losses of the global banking system since the financial crisis have been almost moderate at USD 1,500bn The most recent crisis does teach us, however, that the Chinese are prepared to take drastic measures if necessary. China fought the financial crisis by flooding the credit markets: 35% credit growth in one year on the basis of a classic Keynesian spending program is no small matter.

Chinese money not only inflates a property bubble domestically but also around the globe (e.g. in Sydney and Vancouver). Further support for the global property markets is in question, given the measures China has recently launched. Due to financial problems, Chinese groups such as Anbang and HNA will have to swap the role of buyer for that of seller. The IMF has forecast a further doubling of total Chinese debt outstanding from USD 27,000bn in 2016 to USD 54,000bn in 2022. By comparison, in 2016 China’s GDP amounted to USD 11,200bn. This spells debt-induced growth at declining rates of marginal utility. From our point of view, this development – which we can also see in the West – is unsustainable.

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” Say good-bye to super-cheap cash.”

How To Plan For Next Round Of Fed Interest Rate Hikes (Freep)

The easy money officially ends Wednesday, as interest rates, much like summer temps, heat up once again. It’s a “slam-dunk” that the Federal Reserve will increase rates by a quarter point after its meeting this week, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. And it’s likely we’re in for two more quarter-point hikes in September and December, he said. “If you are thinking about buying a car or home, sooner is better than later, but I wouldn’t rush into anything, as rates, while rising, are still very low,” Zandi said. The U.S. economy — with a national jobless rate at 3.8% in May, the lowest level in 18 years — has put the Great Recession in 2008-09 in the rear view mirror.

Consumers — as well as business leaders — are formulating strategies to cope with higher rates ahead. The Fed began gradually tightening money with the first quarter-point rate hike in December 2015 — then the first rate hike in nearly a decade. Since then, there have been another five rate hikes. The latest rate hike in March took the Fed’s benchmark rate to a target range of 1.5% to 1.75%. If the Fed raises rates as expected Wednesday, the overnight borrowing cost will be in line with the Fed’s inflation target of 2%. For the first time in almost a decade, the cost of borrowing will no longer be essentially free. Say good-bye to super-cheap cash.

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Carrot for Kim.

Trump Open To US Embassy In Pyongyang, North Korea (Axios)

President Trump is willing to consider establishing official relations with North Korea and even eventually putting an embassy in Pyongyang, according to two sources familiar with preparations for the Singapore summit. “It would all depend what he gets in return,” said a source close to the White House. “Denuclearization would have to be happening.” The sources stressed that this is one of many topics that could be discussed at the summit, and that certainly nothing like that has been decided or is necessarily expected to emerge from Trump’s historic mano a mano with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But the U.S. and North Korean working groups — with engagements in New York, the DMZ and Singapore — have discussed establishing official relations between the two countries that would involve putting a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang. One of the sources, who is familiar with the president’s thinking, said Trump had made it a point not to reject any ideas headed into the summit: “It’s definitely been discussed,” the source said. “His view is: ‘We can discuss that: It’s on the table. Let’s see.’ Of course we would consider it. There’s almost nothing he’ll take off the table going in.” The source said North Korean officials have been wildly inconsistent in the pre-meetings, making it difficult to get any read on how the discussions might go.

The source close to the White House added: “POTUS will consider any idea anyone brings him if it delivers on denuclearization that is irreversible and verifiable. He won’t be played by Kim. But it is not his style to — on the front end — rule out possibilities of what could happen or may happen depending on how negotiations go.”

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Well, it wasn’t dull.

Trump Backs Out Of Joint G7 Communique With Attack On Trudeau (Ind.)

Donald Trump has rejected an agreement signed off by the leaders of countries at the G7 summit in Canada despite earlier having appeared to endorse the joint statement vowing to fight back against protectionism and pledging to follow established trade rules. The joint statement between the leaders of US, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Italy, and Canada comes after US President Donald Trump refused to back down from his decision to impose international tariffs on goods including steel and aluminium imports as a part of his so-called “America First” strategy.

The communique had been confirmed by Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, who conceded that Mr Trump’s tough talk on trade showed there was a lot of work to be done between the countries, but nevertheless portrayed the joint statement as a positive step towards international cooperation. However, Mr Trump later tweeted that he had would not now endorse the communique due to “false statements” from the Canadian prime minister. He wrote: “Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”

He added: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”

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These people see themselves as no.1, because that’s what they are where they come from. Being contradicted is then hard to take.

One ‘Rant,’ Rough Talks Sour G7 Mood In Confrontations With Trump (R.)

Trump gave “a long, frank rant”, the official said, repeating a position he carried through the 2016 U.S. election campaign into the White House that the United States had suffered at the hands of its trading partners, with French President Emmanuel Macron pushing back on the assertion and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chiming in. It was a “a long litany of recriminations, somewhat bitter reports that the United States was treated unfairly,” said the French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was a difficult time, rough, very frank.” The U.S. president did not appear to be listening during some of the trade presentations, another G7 official familiar with the meeting said.

Trump himself told reporters on Saturday that the summit was not contentious and called his relationship with G7 allies a “10”. Despite smiles and jokes for the cameras, the tension among the leaders was clear. At one point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was seen having a brief, intense one-sided conversation with a stony-faced Trump on Friday. On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sniped about “stragglers” after Trump was late to a breakfast session on gender equality. Trump left the summit early for Singapore, where he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week.

One scene at the very beginning of the gathering of presidents and prime ministers of the biggest industrialized nations set the mood for facing the brash Trump. He arrived at La Malbaie, the scenic luxury resort on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, as the four European leaders and the two EU heads were huddled together in a room to coordinate their strategy. The noise of Trump’s helicopter landing was so loud they had to stop talking for a while, in a scene one official compared to the opening from the U.S. television series M.A.S.H. “The EU understands that the only way with Trump is strength,” said one European official. “If you give in now, he will come back tomorrow for more.”

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All policies must benefit China.

China’s Xi Calls Out ‘Selfish, Short-Sighted’ Trade Policies (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is locked in a high-stakes trade dispute with the United States, on Sunday said China rejects “selfish, shortsighted” trade policies, and called for building an open global economy. Xi did not mention the United States during a speech at a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a regional security bloc led by China and Russia. “We reject selfish, shortsighted, closed, narrow policies, (we) uphold World Trade Organisation rules, support a multi-lateral trade system, and building an open world economy,” Xi said in a speech in the port city of Qingdao.

The United States and China have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to $150 billion each, as President Donald Trump has pushed Beijing to open its economy further and address the United States’ large trade deficit with China. Xi spoke hours after Trump said he was backing out of the Group of Seven communique, thwarting what appeared to be a fragile consensus on a trade dispute between Washington and its top allies. “We must … discard Cold War thinking, group confrontation; we object to acts of getting one’s own absolute security at the cost of other countries’ security,” Xi said.

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Skripal and Crimea. It’s all they got.

G7 Leaders Urge Russia To Stop Undermining Democracies (R.)

Leaders of the Group of Seven countries urged Russia on Saturday to stop undermining democracies and said they were ready to step up sanctions against Moscow if necessary. The leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Britain made the strongly worded statement just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump, who is part of the G7, said he wanted Moscow re-invited to the group. “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing behavior, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime,” the leaders said in a statement at the end of their two-day meeting in La Malbaie, Quebec.

The G7 leaders condemned an attack in Salisbury in Britain on a former Russian spy using a Russian-made military grade nerve agent, saying it was highly likely Moscow was responsible because there was no other plausible explanation. Russia denies having anything to do with the attack. The G7 leaders made a commitment on Friday, without naming Russia, to share information between themselves and work with internet service providers and social media companies to thwart foreign meddling in elections. The Kremlin has denied allegations by the United States and some European countries that Russia interfered in their elections. Earlier on Saturday, Trump told a news conference the issue of Russia’s return to the group was discussed. Russia was a member of the then G8 until it was expelled for annexing Crimea in 2014.

“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in. I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7,” Trump said. Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti expressed similar sentiment. But the final communique struck a different note, saying western sanctions against Russia would continue as long as Moscow failed to meet its obligations in Ukraine under the Minsk accord it signed, and could even be stepped up. “We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and reaffirm our enduring support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” the G7 statement said.

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World order.

Iran’s Rouhani Criticizes US For Imposing Its Policies On Others (R.)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said that U.S. efforts to impose its policies on others are a threat to all, after Washington last month said it was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and would reimpose economic sanctions. Rouhani, speaking at a summit of the Chinese and Russian-led security bloc the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the port city of Qingdao, said he appreciated efforts by Beijing and Moscow to maintain the nuclear deal.

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“One believed in scientific ingenuity as the answer to our problems, the other was convinced that it only deepened the crisis.”

The Relationship Between Population And Consumption Is Not Straightforward (G.)

Charles C Mann is a science journalist, author and historian. His books 1491 and 1493, looking at the Americas before and after Columbus, were widely acclaimed. His new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, examines the highly influential and starkly contrasting environmental visions of Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) and William Vogt (the Prophet). Borlaug (1914-2009) was instrumental in the green revolution that vastly expanded the amount of food humanity has been able to cultivate. Vogt (1902-1968) was a pioneering ecologist who argued that humans had exceeded the Earth’s “carrying capacity” and were heading for cataclysm unless consumption was drastically reduced. One believed in scientific ingenuity as the answer to our problems, the other was convinced that it only deepened the crisis.

What made you frame this story of humanity’s future in terms of these two individuals?

It really started the night my daughter was born 19 years ago. I was standing in the parking lot at three in the morning and it suddenly popped into my head that when Amelia, my daughter, became my age there would be almost 10 billion people in the world. And I believe that centuries from now, when historians look back at the time when you and I have been alive, the big thing that they’ll say happened is that hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Latin America and Africa lifted themselves from destitution to something like the middle class. So not only will there be 10 billion people but all those people will want the same things you and I want – nice homes, nice car, nice clothes, the odd chunk of Toblerone, right?

And so I stood there in the parking lot and thought to myself: how are we meant to do this? I’m a science journalist, so when I was talking to researchers, I’d say: “How are we going to feed everybody, how are we going to get water for everybody, house everybody? What are we going to do about climate change?” After a while I realised that the answers I was getting fell into two broad categories, each of which had a name that kept being associated with it: one was Borlaug, the other Vogt.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a gem. I was thinking next Memorial Day make every American listen to With God On Our Side.

There Are No War Heroes. There Are Only War Victims. (CJ)

The US special operations soldier who was killed in Somalia (one of the “seven countries in five years” famously named in General Wesley Clark’s revelation of the US war machine’s plans for world domination) and the four others who were injured are not heroes. The US servicemen and women who have fought and died in America’s nonstop acts of military expansionism and wars of aggression are not heroes. They are victims. They are victims of a sociopathic power establishment which does not care about them, and never has. If what I just wrote bothered you, it is because you have been conditioned to oppose such ideas by generations of war propaganda.

If you believe that US soldiers are heroes, it means that you believe that they are fighting and dying for a noble cause; for your freedom, for democracy, for the good and the just. It turns the deaths of the fallen into a tragic but noble sacrifice in your eyes, which keeps you from realizing that they have actually been dying for the profit margins of war plutocrats, land and resource assets, and the neoconservative agenda to secure control of the planet. There is nothing heroic about being thrown into the gears of the war machine and having one’s body and mind ripped apart for the advancement of plutocratic interests. But if your rulers can trick you into thinking that dead US soldiers died for something worth dying for, you won’t turn around and lay the blame on the war profiteers and ambitious sociopaths who are truly responsible for their deaths.

So they lie to you. Constantly. People often counter this notion by pointing at World War 2, about which a case for the possibility of heroism in war can indeed be made. But the fact that this argument needs to reach back 73 years to the very brink of living memory in order to find a justifiable US war tells you everything you need to know about the weakness of that argument. Since 1945, when human civilization looked completely different and America itself was still an apartheid state, we have seen the US military spread around the globe, collapse nations, and butcher millions upon millions of people, all at the expense of the lives of US military personnel, and all without just cause. The people whose lives have been used like Kleenex and discarded by the US war machine did not die for a good cause.

They did not die fighting for freedom or democracy. They are not heroes. They are victims. We need to talk about this. The way we can be shamed into silence for saying such things is truly toxic, because it prevents us from addressing the very real problem that the United States starts unjust wars constantly and spends soldiers’ lives like pennies. It probably is nice for the families of war victims to tell themselves comforting stories about how their loved one died fighting to make the world a better place, and normally I’d be happy to let them harbor that personal fantasy without saying anything to disrupt it, but people are dying here.

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Annie Leonard is the boss at Greenpeace USA. And she has it upside down. You don’t ask multinationals if they would pretty please use less plastic. You ban them from using it.

Our Plastic Pollution Crisis Is Too Big For Recycling To Fix (Leonard)

Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. In the name of profit and convenience, corporations are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just “go away” when we toss it into a bin. Since the 1950s, some 8.3bn tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled. Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic – up to 12.7m tons of plastic end up in them every year. Just over a decade ago, I launched the Story of Stuff to help shine a light on the ways we produce, use and dispose of the stuff in our lives. The Story of Stuff is inextricably linked to the story of plastics – the packaging that goes along with those endless purchases.

We buy a soda, sip it for a few minutes, and toss its permanent packaging “away”. We eat potato chips, finish them, then throw their permanent packaging “away”. We buy produce, take it out of the unnecessary plastic wrap, then throw its permanent packaging “away”. The cycle is endless, and it happens countless times every single day. But here’s the catch – there is no “away”. As far as we try to toss a piece of plastic – whether it’s into a recycling bin or not – it does not disappear. Chances are, it ends up polluting our communities, oceans or waterways in some form. For years, we’ve been conned into thinking the problem of plastic packaging can be solved through better individual action. We’re told that if we simply recycle we’re doing our part.

We’re told that if we bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we’re saving the world. We think that if we drink from a reusable bottle, we’re making enough of a difference. But the truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess. [..] We need corporations – those like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Nestlé that continue to churn out throwaway plastic bottles, cups, and straws – to step up and show real accountability for the mess they’ve created. Drink companies produce over 500bn single-use plastic bottles annually; there is no way that we can recycle our way out of a problem of that scale.

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Apr 072018
 
 April 7, 2018  Posted by at 12:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Farmers’ supply co-op. Nyssa, Malheur County, Oregon 1939

 

 

It’s Dr. D again. Told you he’s on a roll. He remains convinced America can re-invent itself. If only because it must.

 

 

Dr. D: Herbert Stein’s Law states “What Can’t Go On Forever, Doesn’t.” This is a neat summary of the present trade and currency imbalance. China makes real goods and the U.S. consumes them by typing digits on a keyboard. This is the very definition of what cannot go on forever.

 

• How long do you expect a nation can make nothing and consume everything?

• How long do you expect a nation without manufacturing, without a workforce, and now without a viable military to remain pre-eminent?

• How long does wealth and influence remain in a nation that makes nothing, does nothing, and knows nothing?

 

Reminds me of that other Law: “A fool and his money should be parted as soon as possible”, for to be wealthy, and helpless, and dumb, is not a combination that lasts for very long.

Since China cannot send the U.S. free goods forever, ergo, they won’t. That means slowly or quickly, now or later, they will cut us off. Right now it appears that can never happen, but I assure you it will very soon. And what will the U.S. do then? Actually, that’s very simple: the U.S. will have to close a $600B trade deficit instantly. Roughly, that means the U.S. will no longer import $600B worth of goods and be $600B/year poorer, or $2,000/year per person. Nor is this unusual. History is rife with examples of nations that once were prosperous and were suddenly cut off: Spain and Greece come immediately to mind. So how does this happen?

The Core nation, the trading hub has failed dozens of times in history, from Venice to Holland, Spain to England, and although most of history was on a gold standard, nevertheless the same thing happened: repudiation and devaluation of the currency. That’s why a U.K. Pound is no longer a troy pound of pure silver ($192) and why the U.S. Dollar is no longer 1/20th ounce of gold ($267). So let’s run down how this might unfold.

Like other empires, the U.S. rose to prominence with hard work and industry. Like other empires, this personal and physical industry was the foundation of an effective military. This military eventually stood alone, leaving the U.S. to set the rules of trade, the rules of diplomacy, and the rules of conduct. Like other nations, the U.S. bent those rules in its own favor, both early and late. Like other nations, the natural way to take advantage was to run an overvalued currency, which draws in capital from all trading partners worldwide, creating a 100-year spiral of wealth and influence that seems truly endless.

However math, the cruelest of Mother Nature’s laws, is not fooled. If you bend the rules to create market distortions, those distortions are indeed created. If there were fair trade, a gold standard, a nation that increases their wealth would find its currency rise. A rising currency would dampen manufacturing and efficiency, the gold would flow back out, and the unfair advantage would be corrected. But only in a free market. Any market on Earth has an Army, and that Army’s job day and night is to make sure that unfair advantage does NOT end. Ask Smedley Butler.

 

Mother Nature is never deterred. However long it takes, she waits. Lacking fair trade, an abnormally strong currency does the only other thing it can: destroy the Core nation’s industry, totally and completely. More certain than a nuclear explosion, economics will not miss a single spot until the wrong is righted and the truth is out. At first the low-gain commodity industries go: mining, shipping, smelting; then their sooty kinsmen: heavy rail, ships, ports, transportation.

After that go the lighter industries: manufacturing, stamping, autos, and so on up to mainframes, silicon chips and phones, and with them, their children, manufacturing processes and R&D. However, as London and NY showed, you can forestall currency correction even now by moving market distortions into services and financial engineering. At this point, however, the Core nation has nothing left but Banks, Universities, and the Government/Military, and no underlying economy to support them.

However, what Charles Hugh Smith calls the fiefdoms of monopoly cartels and apparatchiks of the 1% now lead an empty parade, horse-whipping the uncompliant 99% into supporting an economy that exists only in their minds. And then “What can’t go on, doesn’t.” The empire collapses from within, to the total surprise of historians of the 1%, and the total lack of interest of the 99%, for whom it had already collapsed decades before.

And of the other side? Thanks to the overly-high currency of the Core nation, the perimeter nation has an artificially LOW currency. They didn’t do that, because they are by definition small and weak and aren’t using an army to set the rules. The artificially low currency leads to low costs, low labor, high enterprise, and in the mirror image of the Core nation, the constant INCREASE in manufacturing. The increase in wealth, and the addition of commodity goods, then heavy industry, then manufacturing, then R&D. Whose fault is that? Who used a worldwide army to enforce the very rules that gutted their homeland? Not the Vandals; not China. It was Rome; it was D.C.

What is this whole imbalance based on? In our case, the artificially strong dollar, backed by a worldwide U.S. military. So how must it end? With a weak dollar, falling real markets, and a U.S. military returning home.

You say this can’t happen? Yet it must happen. To say otherwise means China will give us free goods for 10,000 years, and the U.S. will get always weaker that whole time. So how does the transition go?

The U.S. financial bulwark cracks, being highest and most based on psychology, not reality, very likely in conjunction to a military failure or withdrawal, as in empire finance, the military and currency are equivalent. Slowly, then rapidly, the tide flows out, the U.S. dollar gets weaker, the Chinese Yuan gets stronger, and the whole process reversed as it should have done years ago.

 


(mind the log scale)

 

Mother Nature isn’t fooled, and those 70 years of repression and manipulation are made up in a few years.

Down on the ground, what happens is not that China shuts off free imports to the U.S. directly, with a political embargo, what happens is the U.S. is seen as a has-been and the U.S. dollar falls in purchasing power on the world market, raising the price of foreign goods in a “free” and “open” marketplace. Lacking manufacturing and the military power to stop it, the U.S. can’t hold off Mother Nature and the laws of physics any more.

Knowing this to be inevitable, how would a nation prepare? For one thing, you would need to kick-start your industry, post-haste. Anything that can be made internally will find its prices stabilize and not rise. Yet before the currency rates are corrected this face overwhelming headwinds. Second, as income will be lost and the borders will be shut off, you need to switch the focus of taxation from income to tariffs, from finance to real goods.

Third, you need to open your pipelines, ports, and infrastructure, and expand the required steel, oil by any means necessary, even armed standoffs. Fourth, you’ll need to shove the culture away from government support and subsidies that will soon disappear, and into self-reliance and productivity. Firth, you’ll need to downsize the government and especially the military, which will and must return home. Any of those platforms sound familiar?

 

Despite what you read, it’s not all bad. Just as “The arrogant people will be brought down, and high and mighty people will be humbled”, “Every valley shall be raised up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places smooth.”

 

This is a master reversal of all manipulations, of all imbalances that have reached extremes. As the U.S. – China trade deficit must balance, we know that Chinese goods must rise. But that also means the cost of production for U.S. goods must fall. This cost-advantage puts Americans back to work just as it did the Chinese, while the rise of the Yuan will make China rich, but less productive.

What’s more, as matters reverse, the U.S. will raise prices on their exports: food and oil, two things China must have and cannot get elsewhere. Agriculture is at an all-time, 1,000 year low and must rise. Stocks and housing are at an all-time high and must fall. In a reversal, the high prices fall, the low prices rise, that’s obvious. That’s what “reversal” means, that’s what “extreme” means.

As for manufacturing, the world is changing fast. Even China is opening “dark” factories that employ no people, only robots. That will be true here as well, which undercuts any labor savings they once had. There’s a few problems, however: robotic mega-factories only work with very large scale of identical goods that can source reliable, high-quality inputs. If oil is too high, and/or shipping or marketing fractures, those factories scale down, retool more, and therefore require more people than presently.

How is China going to have huge robotic mega-factories if half their export market can no longer afford them? If the U.S. and China split the market, aren’t all those factories half the size of present? Since the U.S. will now have low-cost people and raw materials, what advantage does China bring to offset shipping and tariffs? The “market” isn’t uniform. There was worldwide mass-integration of manufacturing between India and England and the world in 1910 too, yet it’s didn’t persist; it changed.

 

One way it can change is to leapfrog China. We hear about how the U.S. is a has-been as we are supporting legacy copper telephones while the 3rd world goes directly to fiber and cell, and this is true. However, China has mainlined on low-price, low-profit, mass-manufacturing. Why would anyone compete with them there? It’s irrational. Build a baseline and let them have all the low-profit, environment-destroying work they want, the U.S. can’t and won’t beat them there.

We can beat them by leapfrogging into technology that’s out there, but no one is revealing yet, things they haven’t done, but Americans are good at doing: innovating, high-tech, medical. Much as I hate high-tech and its panacea as an answer, yet I believe there are goods, ideas out there that can transform the way things work.

Look at the rapid development and uptake of LEDs for example. The patent office is filled with them, and an outsized number are American. We have superconducting maglev, field physics, material science of no-weight foam, color-shifting paint, hyperconducting graphite, and transparent concrete to name a few. All there, all unused. Let’s make an example case in a very large, very quiet investment.

Medical and Biotech are to some extent used up, with overpriced, mass-market pharmaceuticals being rejected by price and form even by the wider population. But that’s so last-century. The new biotech is going to take a blood or DNA sample and synthesize a drug specifically for your blood and DNA. They are going to create another organ, a blood transfusion no one but you can use.

In one way, this may be more expensive, and that’s good for profits, but in another way, they will work for you, much better and guaranteed, and therefore fix your health faster, spare you useless drugs, bad side effects, and actually work, and therefore be cheaper. What does it take to make them? A complete revolution in drug manufacturing. Multi-billion dollars’ worth of equipment, extremely unique development and patents, a 20 year head start.

 

Could you sell such a thing to the Chinese? You bet. Could they get off retail manufacturing and scoop us on it? Not a chance. So you see how such a thing could happen, even with a U.S. dollar falling and a hard readjustment ahead. And that’s just one.

If boutique and robotic goods are the new industries, what do we do with 200 million unemployed? We won’t have 200 million. That’s a consequence of the distorted extreme of our finance, our centralization, our currency. For one thing, we have only 100 million now and a lower dollar will definitely restore the competitive advantage of highly-productive U.S. workers. At the same time, if work requires fewer workers, we will find a solution. Why?

Because you can’t have 200 million unemployed. Not even 100 million. The resulting inequity and income disparity can and has caused a revolution. Faced with that, any nation will adjust because they must or perish. As difficult as Americans can be, they are a practical people above all. This has happened to dozens of nations in the past: Spain, France, Germany, England, China, Japan, and they all still exist. Things rotated out in the big wheel of time. New things were made and the old ones faded away, and we will too.

We’re going back to being just one of many nations, and a fair and productive one too. There are ways and we will find them. How can I be so sure? Because “What Can’t Go On Forever, Doesn’t,” and it won’t this time either.

 

 

Aug 042017
 
 August 4, 2017  Posted by at 1:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


William Blake Europe Supported by Africa and America 1796

 

Earlier this week I was struck by the similarities and differences between two graphs I saw float by. And the thought occurred that they are as scary as they are interesting. The graphs show eerily similar trends. And complement each other. The first graph, which Tyler Durden posted, shows productivity, defined as more or less the same as GDP per capita. It goes all the way back to 1790 and contends that 2017 productivity is about back to the level it was at in 1790. In the article, Tyler suggests a link with the amount of time people spend on Instagram et al, but perhaps there is something more going on.

That is, America and Western Europe exported almost their entire manufacturing capacity to China etc. And how can you be productive if you don’t manufacture anything? Yeah, I know, ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘service economy’ and all that, but does anyone still really believe those terms? Sure, that may have worked for a while as others were still actually making stuff (and nobody really understood the idea anyway), but it’s a sliding scale. As productivity plunged, so did GDP per capita. We can all wrap our heads around that.

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app. According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too.

 

When asking the question “What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?”, a next question should be: what is the technology used for? And if the answer to that is not “for making things”, then what do you think could its effect on productivity could possibly be?

Tyler took that graph from an article posted August 22, 2015, also on Zero Hedge, by Eugen Bohm-Bawerk, who at the time had some interesting things to say about it:

Productivity In America Now On Par With Agrarian Slave Economy

[..] it is time to take a closer look at productivity measured in terms of GDP per capita. While this is not an entirely correct way to measure productivity, it does adhere to new classical growth model theories which posit that in a developed economy, reached steady state, the only way to increase GDP per capita is through increased total factor productivity. In plain English, growth in GDP per capita equals productivity growth. The reason we use this concept instead of more advanced productivity measures is to get a long enough time series to properly understand the underlying fundamental forces driving society forward.

In our main chart we have tried to see through all the underlying noise in the annual data by looking at a 10-year rolling average and a polynomial trend line. In the period prior to the War of 1812 US productivity growth was lacklustre as the economy was mainly driven by agriculture and slaves (slaves have no incentive to work hard or innovate, only to work just hard enough to avoid being beaten). From 1790 to 1840 annual growth averaged only 0.7%. As the first industrial revolution started to take hold in the north-east, productivity growth rose rapidly, and even more during the second industrial revolution which propelled the US economy to become the world largest and eventually the global hegemon [..]

Adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold. The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2% from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago.

[..] With hindsight we know that finance did more harm than good so we can conservatively deduct finance from the GDP calculations and by doing so we essentially end up with no growth per capita at all over a timespan of more than 15 years! US real GDP per capita less contribution from finance increased by an annual average of 0.3% from 2000 to 2015. From 2008 the annual average has been negative 0.5%!

In other words, we have seen a progressive (pun intended) weakening of the US economy from the 1970s and the reason is simple enough when we know that monetary policy broken down to its most basic is a transaction of nothing (fiat money) for something (real production of goods and services). Modern monetary policy thereby violates the most sacred principle in a market based economy; namely that production creates its own demand. Only through previous production, either your own or borrowed, can one express true purchasing power on the market place.

The central bank does not need to worry about such trivial things. They can manufacture the medium of exchange at zero cost and express purchasing power on the same level as the producer. However, consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption. Do this on a grand scale, over a long period of time, even a capital rich economy as the US will eventually be depleted. Capital per worker falls relative to competitors abroad, cost goes up and competitiveness falls (think rust-belt). Productive structures cannot be properly funded and the economy must regress to align funding with its level of specialization.

Eugen gets close to what I said earlier about productivity. That is, you have to make stuff, to manufacture things, in order to have, let alone grow, productivity (aka GDP per capita). An economy based -too heavily- on services and finance is not going to do it for you. Because “the most sacred principle in a market based economy” is that “production creates its own demand.”

Now, combine that graph with the next one, from Lance Roberts, which unmistakably depicts the same trendline, though on a different -shorter- time scale. Lance’s graph shows more or less the same as Tyler’s, if you allow me that freedom, namely: GDP per capita growth equals productivity equals GDP growth, but it adds a crucial component (unless you ask someone like Paul Krugman): debt.

Together, the graphs show how we have ‘solved’ the issue of falling growth and productivity: with debt. It doesn’t get simpler than that. We exported our productive capacity to China, and now we can only afford to buy their products -which are mostly inferior in quality to what our ancestors once made- by getting into -more- debt. Big simplification, granted, but we’re doing broad strokes here.

 

 

All this is simple enough for a 6-year old to grasp. It’s actually likely easier for them than for most trained economists. Problem is, the 6-year olds are probably busy on Instagram. Tyler’s right on that one. But then, at least they’re not stuck in outdated modelling.

Ergo: we have a precipitous decline in productivity, which also translates into a decline in GDP. Even if we come up with all sorts of accounting tricks to hide this fact. And what do we do, or rather, what have we done? Enter central banks, stage right. That second graph inevitably raises the question: Without all the debt, where would the growth rate stand today? And I know what you want to say, because just like you, I am afraid to ask.

We’ve used all those trillions in new debt to, as far as productivity is concerned, run to not even stand still: productivity (GDP per capita) continues to decline despite all the debt. Why is that? Well, Bohm-Bawerk answers that question earlier: “.. consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption.” In other words, as I said before, if you don’t use it to actually make things, you’re basically just burning it. Plus, in the process, as we see ever clearer in the effects of QE, you can grossly distort an economy, by blowing bubbles, propping up zombies etc.

Things would look different if we used the “zero cost money” for production instead of consumption. But that’s not what the central bank money is used for at all. The net effect of all that debt, be it QE or new mortgage debt, is less than zero. Quite a bit less, actually. How do we solve that problem? The answer is deadly simple, though not easy to put into practice: start making stuff again! Or put it this way: debt must be used to raise production, not consumption.

 

 

Aug 182015
 
 August 18, 2015  Posted by at 2:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Doré Dante and Virgil among the gluttons 1868

In case you missed it, we’re doing something a little different. Nicole wrote a very lenghty article and we decided to publish it in chapters. Over five days we are posting five different chapters of the article, one on each day, and then on day six the whole thing. Just so there’s no confusion: the article, all five chapters of it, was written by Nicole Foss. Not by Ilargi.

This is part 4. Part 1 is here:
Global Financial Crisis – Liquidity Crunch and Economic Depression,
Part 2 is here:
The Psychological Driver of Deflation and the Collapse of the Trust Horizon
and part 3 is here:
Declining Energy Profit Ratio and Socioeconomic Complexity


Blind Alleys and Techno-Fantasies

The majority of proposals made by those who acknowledge limits fail on at least one of the previous criteria, and often several, if not all of them. Solution space is smaller than we typically think. The most common approach is to insist on government policies intended to implement meaningful change by fiat. Even in the best of times, government policy is a blunt instrument which all too often achieves the opposite of its stated intention, and in contractionary times the likelihood of this increases enormously.

Governments are reactive – and slowly – not proactive. Policies typically reflect the realities of the past, not the future, and are therefore particularly maladaptive at times of large scale trend change, particularly when that change unfolds rapidly. Those focusing on government policy are mostly not thinking in terms of crisis, however, but of seamless proactive adjustment – the kind of which humanity is congenitally incapable.

There is a common perception that government policy and its effect on society depends critically on who holds the seat of power and what policies they impose. The assumption is that elected leaders do, in fact, wield the power to determine and implement their chosen policies, but this has become less and less the case over time. Elected leaders are the public face of a system which they do not control, and increasingly act merely as salesmen for policies determined behind the scenes, mostly at the behest of special interest groups with privileged political access.

It actually matters little who is the figure-head at any given time, as their actions are constrained by the system in which they are embedded. Even if leaders fully understood the situation we face, which is highly unlikely given the nature of the leadership selection process, they would be unable to change the direction of a system so much larger than themselves.

Where public pressure on elected governments develops around a specific issue, for whatever reason, the political response is generally to act in such a way as to appear to do something meaningful, while actually making no substantive change at all. Often the appearance of action is nothing more than vacuous political spin, assuaging public opinion while doing nothing to threaten the extractive interests driving the system in the same direction as always. We cannot expect truly adaptive initiatives to emerge from a system hostage to powerful vested interests and therefore locked into a given direction.

Public understanding of the issues agitated for or against tends, unfortunately, to be limited and one-dimensional, meaning that it is essentially impossible to create public pressure for truly informed policy changes, and it is relatively simple to claim that the appearance of action constitutes actual action. A short public attention span makes this even simpler. People are also extremely unlikely to vote for policies which, if they were to make a meaningful difference, would amount to depriving those same people of the outsized consumption habits to which they have become accustomed. The insurmountable obstacles to achieving change through government policy become obvious.

Planned degrowth assumes the possibility of a smooth progression towards a lower consumption future, but this is not how contractions unfold following the bursting of a bubble. What we can expect is a series of abrupt dislocations that are going to wreak havoc with our collective ability to plan anything at all for many years, by which time we will already be living in a lower consumption future arrived at chaotically. Effective planning for an epochal shift requires the capacity for top-down policy implementation at large scale, combined with social cohesion, the ability to maintain complexity, and the energy to maintain control over a myriad distinct aspects simultaneously. It is simply not going to happen in the manner that proponents envisage.

Similarly, a steady state economy is not a realistic construct in light of many non-negotiable realities. Human history, and in fact the non-human evolution which preceded it, is a dynamic history of boom and bust, of niches opening up, being exploited, being over-exploited and collapsing. It is a history of opportunism and the consequences following from it. In the human experience, boom and bust in the form of the rise and fall of empire is an emergent property of civilizational scale. A steady state at this scale is prima facie impossible.

An approximation of steady state can exist under certain circumstances, where a population well below ecological carrying capacity, and surrounded by abundance, is left in isolation for a very long period of time. The Australian aboriginal existence prior to the European invasion is probably the best example, having persisted for tens of thousands of years. The circumstances which permitted it were, however, diametrically opposite to those we currently face.

Proponents of the steady state economy do not seem to appreciate the extent to which we have long since transgressed the point of no return from the perspective of being able to maintain what we have built. Even if we were merely approaching limits, instead of having moved substantially into overshoot, we would not be able to hold society in stasis just below those limitations.

Populations grow and expansion proceeds with it. Intentionally preventing population growth globally is unrealistic. Even China, as a single country, has struggled with population control policies, and has had to take drastic and dictatorial measures in order to slow population growth. This clearly relies on strong top-down control, which is only barely possible at a national level and will never be possible at a global level.

In China we are also going to see that the outcome of population control has challenging consequences, and that a policy supposedly designed to foster stability can have the opposite effect. The desire for a male child has dangerously distorted the gender ratio in ways which will leave the country with a large excess of young men with no prospects for either work or marriage. That is a guarantee of trouble, either at home or abroad, or possibly both. There will also be far too few employed young people to look after a burgeoning elderly population, meaning a rapid die-off of the elderly cohort at some point.

Even then China is unlikely to have managed to get itself back below the carrying capacity it has done so much to destroy during its frantic dash for growth. The tremendous modernity drive China has engaged in essentially undone any benefit curbing population growth might have had, by increasing energy and resource consumption per capita by an enormous margin. It is population times consumption which determines impact, and in China the ecological impact has in many ways been catastrophic. That has to some extent been compensated for by obtaining access to a great deal of land in other countries, but economic colonialism has done nothing for global stability.

While it is possible to conceive, as some steady-state and degrowth proponents do, of a world in which civilization and large-scale urbanism have been dismantled in favour of autonomous, yet networked, village-scale settlements, that does not make it even remotely realistic. Humanity may, in the distant future, after the overshoot condition has been resolved by nature, as it will eventually be, find itself living in villages once again, but they would not be networked in the modern, technological sense, and the population they housed would be very smaller smaller than at present.

If it is below carrying capacity, then it will grow again, restarting the cycle of expansion and contraction rather than settling for a steady-state. Reaching for the stars again would not be possible however, as the necessary energy and resources have already been consumed or dissipated.

People are often inclined to think that a different trajectory is a matter of choice – for instance that we must collectively choose to live differently in order to prevent an ecological catastrophe. In fact it is not a matter of choice at all. There is no basis for top-down control capable of delivering meaningful change, nor would humanity ever collectively choose to scale back its consumption pattern, although individuals can and do. Given opportunities as a species, we take them, as evolution has shaped us to do.

Groups which made a habit of forgoing opportunities in the past would quickly have been out-competed by those who did not. We are the descendants of a long long line of opportunists, selected over millennia for our flexibility in turning an incredibly wide range of circumstances to our advantage. But, in this instance we will have no choice – the shift to lower consumption will be imposed on us by circumstance. The element of choice will be only in how we choose to face that which we cannot change.

Another class of ideas for ways forward is grounded in techno-optimism, suggesting that because human beings are clever and creative, and have tended to push back apparent limits before, that we will be able to do so indefinitely. The notion is that changing our trajectory is unnecessary because limits can always be circumvented. Needless to say, such a view is not grounded in physical reality. These ‘solutions’ are entrepreneurial rather than policy-driven, although they may expect to be facilitated through policy.

Ideas in this category would include such things as smart renewables-based power grids, high-performance electric cars, high-tech energy storage systems, thorium reactors, fusion reactors, biofuels, genetically modified (pseudo)foodstuffs, geoengineering, enhanced automation, high-tech carbon sequestration, global carbon trading platforms, electronic crypto-currencies, clean-tech, vertical farming skyscrapers and many other notions.

Notice that all of these presume the ready availability of cheap energy and resources, along with large quantities of capital, and all assume that technological complexity can be maintained or even increased. Options such as these also have a substantial dependence on the continuation of globalized trade in both goods and services in order to satisfy their complex supply chains. However, globalization depends on the ability to operate at large scale in extremely complex ways, it depends on cheap energy, it depends on maintaining trust in trading partners, and it depends on the ability to travel without facing unacceptable levels of physical risk from piracy or conflict.

Trade does very poorly in times of financial and economic contraction. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, trade fell by 66% in two years. Trust collapses, and with it the contractual ability to agree on risk-sharing arrangements. Letters of credit become impossible to obtain in a credit crunch, and without them goods do not move.

Many goods will in any case have no market, as there will be little purchasing power for anything but essentials, and possibly not even sufficient for those. As we move from the peak of globalized trade, there will be an enormous excess of transport capacity, which will drive prices down relentlessly to the point where transporting goods becomes uneconomic. Much transport capacity will be scrapped. Without credit to oil the wheels of trade, our highly leveraged economic system will grind to a halt.

It is natural that we regard our current situation as being normal, and take for granted that the march of technological progress – the only reality most of us have known – will continue. Few question very deeply the foundations of our societies, and even those who do recognize that change must occur rarely realize the extent to which that change will inevitably strike at the fundamental basis of modern existence. Globalization has peaked and will shortly be moving into reverse. The world will be a very different place as a result.

This is part 4. Part 1 is here:
Global Financial Crisis – Liquidity Crunch and Economic Depression,
Part 2 is here:
The Psychological Driver of Deflation and the Collapse of the Trust Horizon
and part 3 is here:
Declining Energy Profit Ratio and Socioeconomic Complexity

Tune back in tomorrow for part 5: Solution Space